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Shaker Lemon Tart
A bright, sweet-tart dessert for spring celebrations
Happy spring from Japan! I’ve skipped town for a few days with my family for a working vacation (or vacation + work), and we’re having one of the most classic spring experiences possible: enjoying cherry blossom season. Here, all the desserts you see at this time of year are cherry blossom or strawberry flavored. We’ve had lots of sakura mochi and strawberry cakes, plus plenty of matcha ice cream.
At home, however, this time of year is still Meyer lemon season. The tree in our yard starts going strong in winter and then just keeps giving us new fruit for months and months. So, for Easter events, I like to make a bright lemon tart. I’m sharing the recipe below, in case you, too, have access to an abundant lemon tree.
Shaker Lemon Tart
This tart is based on a classic Shaker lemon pie, which uses the entire lemon—rind and pith and all—in the filling. These pies were invented when citrus was hard to ship and, therefore, expensive for people living in colder parts of the country. My tart uses the same general concept as the original pie, but I make a few changes. First (and most important), I make a tart rather than a pie, because I love the shapes of the lemon slices, and I hate to cover them up with a crust. Second, because I want the lemon slices to keep their shapes, I keep the fruit intact, rather than zesting them and then slicing just the inner flesh. This means that my tart is a tiny bit harder to cut or bite through, as the rind is the firmest part of the fruit, but I think it’s worth it for the beautiful rounds you get when slicing the lemons.
The recipe below calls for a press-in tart crust (I give a separate method for it below, under the main recipe), but you can use any tart crust you like. This one is fast and easy, which is why I’ve included it, but it’s also a bit crumblier than a classic pâte sucrée. I use both at different times, choosing the one that best suits my needs on any given baking day.
3-4 Meyer lemons (depending on size)
12” Press-In Tart Crust (recipe below)
2 cups granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
The night before you bake: Slice the lemons very thinly, using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, and removing any seeds as you go. (The slices should be very thin and flexible but not so thin that the lemon doesn’t hold its shape as it’s sliced on the mandolin.) Put the slices into a medium bowl, add the sugar and salt, and let the lemon macerate for 6 to 24 hours.
While the lemons are sitting, prepare your tart crust (see recipe below).
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Melt the butter in a microwave or a small pot. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then mix in the butter and whisk in the flour, breaking up any clumps. Add the lemon-sugar mixture to the bowl, and stir/whisk everything together well.
Pour the filling into the tart crust, and bake for 15 minutes. Turn the heat down to 350°F, and bake the tart for another 15 to 25 minutes, until the center has set (it will puff up very slightly); if the edges of the tart or the lemon pieces start to brown, cover the tart lightly with foil. Remove the tart from the heat, and let it cool completely before serving.
Press-In Tart Crust
9 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Position a rack in the lower part of oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a medium bowl, combine the butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Add the flour and mix just until the dough is well blended. (If it looks too wet, let it sit for a minute before using, to let the butter start to cool and firm up.)
Using your fingers, press the dough evenly over the bottom and sides of a 12” tart pan, making sure to press well in the corners to avoid extra-thick spots. The layer of dough will be very thin, so feel along the bottom of the crust for any small mounds to press out; this will give you enough dough toward the edges to fill in the sides.
Place the crust on a baking sheet and bake it until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. If the crust puffs up while baking, gently press it back down with the back of a fork and prick it a few times. Remove the crust from the oven and set it aside to cool.
Photo: Georgia Freedman